UNCTAD = United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that focuses on trade, investment, and development issues. It was established in 1964 and serves as a platform for member states to discuss and address key challenges and opportunities in these areas.


UNCTAD’s primary function is to promote sustainable development through trade and investment policies. It aims to integrate developing countries into the global economy in a fair and equitable manner. UNCTAD provides a forum for governments, businesses, and civil society organizations to exchange knowledge, expertise, and best practices, and to collaborate on policy formulation and implementation.


UNCTAD operates under the guidance of its member states. It is governed by the Trade and Development Board (TDB), which consists of representatives from all member countries. The TDB meets annually to discuss and decide on UNCTAD’s work program, budget, and strategic priorities. The Secretary-General, appointed by the UN Secretary-General, leads the organization and is responsible for its day-to-day operations.

UNCTAD has three main divisions:

1. Division on International Trade in Goods and Services, and Commodities: This division focuses on analyzing trends and issues related to international trade, including trade negotiations, market access, trade policies, and the impact of trade on development. It provides technical assistance and capacity-building support to developing countries to enhance their trade competitiveness.

2. Division on Investment and Enterprise: This division deals with investment-related matters, including investment policy formulation, promotion, and facilitation. It assists member states in attracting and retaining foreign direct investment (FDI), promoting responsible investment practices, and fostering partnerships between domestic and foreign enterprises.

3. Division on Globalization and Development Strategies: This division examines the implications of globalization for development and formulates strategies to maximize its benefits and mitigate its negative impacts. It focuses on issues such as debt, finance, technology transfer, sustainable development, and macroeconomic policies.

Type of Activity:

UNCTAD engages in a wide range of activities to fulfill its mandate. These activities include:

1. Research and Analysis: UNCTAD conducts research and analysis on trade, investment, and development issues, producing reports, studies, and statistical databases. It provides evidence-based policy recommendations to member states to help them make informed decisions.

2. Technical Assistance and Capacity Building: UNCTAD offers technical assistance and capacity-building programs to developing countries, supporting them in formulating and implementing trade and investment policies. This includes training workshops, policy advice, and assistance in implementing international trade agreements.

3. Conferences and Meetings: UNCTAD organizes conferences, meetings, and expert group sessions to facilitate dialogue and knowledge-sharing among member states, stakeholders, and experts. These events provide platforms for negotiations, policy debates, and the exchange of experiences and best practices.

4. Advocacy and Policy Advice: UNCTAD advocates for pro-development and inclusive trade and investment policies at the global level. It provides policy advice to member states on issues such as trade negotiations, investment frameworks, and the integration of developing countries into the global economy.

5. Data Collection and Analysis: UNCTAD collects and analyzes trade and investment data, producing comprehensive databases and statistical tools. This data helps member states monitor trends, evaluate policies, and measure progress towards development goals.

UNCTAD plays a crucial role in promoting sustainable development and addressing the challenges faced by developing countries in the realm of trade and investment. By facilitating dialogue, providing technical assistance, and conducting research, it contributes to creating a more inclusive and equitable global economic system.

1. Trade and Development: UNCTAD places a strong emphasis on addressing the specific needs and challenges of developing countries in the global trading system. It focuses on issues such as market access, trade facilitation, trade in services, trade and environment, trade and gender, and trade and poverty reduction. UNCTAD assists developing countries in formulating trade policies that promote sustainable development, enhance competitiveness, and enable them to integrate into global value chains.

2. Investment and Enterprise: UNCTAD recognizes the role of foreign direct investment (FDI) in driving economic growth and development. It provides guidance to member states on investment policies, including investment promotion, protection, and facilitation. UNCTAD advocates for responsible investment practices that contribute to sustainable development, respect human rights, protect the environment, and promote technology transfer. It also supports efforts to enhance the capacity of domestic enterprises, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to participate in global markets.

3. Technology and Innovation: UNCTAD recognizes the critical role of technology and innovation in driving economic growth and sustainable development. It focuses on technology transfer, capacity-building, and the promotion of science, technology, and innovation policies. UNCTAD assists developing countries in leveraging technology for productive purposes, enhancing their technological capabilities, and bridging the digital divide. It also addresses issues related to intellectual property rights and access to essential medicines.

4. Debt and Finance: UNCTAD analyzes debt and finance issues with a development perspective. It examines the impact of debt on economic development, provides policy advice on debt sustainability, debt management, and debt relief initiatives. UNCTAD promotes responsible lending and borrowing practices and advocates for fair and transparent international financial systems.

5. Commodities: UNCTAD focuses on commodity-related issues, particularly those affecting developing countries heavily dependent on commodity exports. It analyzes commodity markets, price trends, and the impact of commodity dependence on development. UNCTAD provides policy recommendations to help countries diversify their economies, enhance value addition, and promote sustainable commodity sectors.

6. Least Developed Countries (LDCs): UNCTAD pays special attention to the development needs and challenges faced by the least developed countries. It works to enhance their productive capacities, promote trade diversification, and support their integration into the global economy. UNCTAD provides technical assistance, policy advice, and capacity-building programs tailored to the specific needs of LDCs.

7. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): UNCTAD aligns its work with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs. It contributes to various SDGs, including SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure), SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities), and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals). UNCTAD’s activities aim to foster inclusive economic growth, reduce poverty, promote sustainable consumption and production patterns, and address systemic issues in the global economic and financial systems.

These are just some highlights of UNCTAD’s multifaceted work. The organization continues to evolve its priorities and initiatives based on the changing global economic landscape and the development needs of its member states.

1. Trade Facilitation: UNCTAD assists developing countries in simplifying and streamlining trade procedures to reduce trade costs and boost competitiveness. It provides guidance on customs procedures, trade documentation, trade facilitation agreements, and the use of digital technologies in trade facilitation. UNCTAD’s work in this area aims to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of trade processes, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries.

2. E-commerce and Digital Economy: Recognizing the growing importance of e-commerce and the digital economy, UNCTAD supports member states in harnessing the potential of digital technologies for trade and development. It provides policy advice, capacity-building programs, and technical assistance on issues such as digital trade, digital entrepreneurship, cybersecurity, data protection, and digital skills development. UNCTAD works to bridge the digital divide and ensure that developing countries can fully participate in the digital economy.

3. Investment Policy Reviews: UNCTAD conducts Investment Policy Reviews (IPRs) to assess the investment policies and frameworks of member states. These reviews provide an analysis of the investment climate, identify strengths and weaknesses, and offer policy recommendations to improve the investment environment. IPRs help countries attract investment, enhance investor confidence, and create a conducive business environment.

4. Entrepreneurship and SME Development: UNCTAD supports the development of entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries. It provides technical assistance, capacity-building programs, and policy advice to enhance the competitiveness and sustainability of SMEs. UNCTAD’s initiatives focus on areas such as access to finance, business development services, technology transfer, market access, and entrepreneurship education.

5. Commodities and Development Report: UNCTAD publishes an annual Commodities and Development Report, which analyzes trends and issues related to commodity markets and their impact on developing countries. The report examines issues such as commodity price volatility, terms of trade, commodity dependence, and sustainable commodity sectors. It provides policy recommendations to maximize the development benefits of commodities for producing countries.

6. World Investment Reports: UNCTAD’s World Investment Reports provide comprehensive analysis and data on trends in global foreign direct investment (FDI). These reports examine different aspects of FDI, including flows, policy developments, investment treaties, and the impact of FDI on development. The reports serve as a valuable resource for policymakers, investors, and researchers in understanding global investment patterns.

7. Multi-year Expert Meeting on Trade, Services, and Development: UNCTAD organizes the Multi-Year Expert Meeting on Trade, Services, and Development, which brings together experts, policymakers, and stakeholders to discuss key issues related to trade in services and its role in development. The meetings focus on topics such as services trade policies, regulatory frameworks, digital services, and the linkages between services trade and sustainable development.

8. Technical Cooperation and Capacity Building: UNCTAD provides technical assistance and capacity-building programs to developing countries, particularly those with limited resources and expertise. These programs aim to enhance countries’ ability to formulate and implement trade and investment policies, negotiate trade agreements, build statistical capacities, and leverage technology for development. UNCTAD’s assistance is tailored to the specific needs and priorities of each country.

1. Debt Management and Restructuring: UNCTAD provides guidance and technical assistance to countries facing debt management and restructuring challenges. It supports countries in developing sustainable debt strategies, enhancing debt transparency, and exploring innovative debt instruments. UNCTAD advocates for fair and transparent debt resolution mechanisms and promotes dialogue between debtor countries, creditors, and international financial institutions.

2. Investment Policy Framework for Sustainable Development: UNCTAD has developed an Investment Policy Framework for Sustainable Development (IPFSD) that provides guidance to countries in formulating investment policies that align with sustainable development objectives. The IPFSD emphasizes the importance of responsible investment, sustainable development impact assessment, and the integration of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations into investment policies.

3. Global Value Chains (GVCs): UNCTAD analyzes the dynamics and impacts of global value chains, which are increasingly shaping international trade and investment patterns. It examines the participation of developing countries in GVCs, the distribution of value-added along the chains, and the potential for upgrading and diversification. UNCTAD assists countries in leveraging GVCs for sustainable development, enhancing their competitiveness, and promoting inclusive and equitable outcomes.

4. Creative Economy: UNCTAD recognizes the growing importance of the creative economy as a driver of economic growth, job creation, and cultural diversity. It provides policy advice and technical assistance to countries in developing their creative industries, including sectors such as arts, culture, media, design, and tourism. UNCTAD supports countries in enhancing the competitiveness of their creative products and services, strengthening intellectual property rights protection, and fostering creative entrepreneurship.

5. Investment Dispute Settlement: UNCTAD engages in the analysis and reform of investment dispute settlement mechanisms. It examines the implications of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms on development and provides policy advice on alternative approaches to investment dispute resolution. UNCTAD advocates for a balanced and inclusive investment governance framework that safeguards the rights of investors while respecting the policy space of host countries.

6. Sustainable Development Investment Partnership (SDIP): UNCTAD is involved in the SDIP, a global initiative that promotes private investment in sustainable development projects. The SDIP facilitates public-private partnerships and mobilizes resources for sustainable infrastructure, renewable energy, and other priority areas. UNCTAD contributes its expertise in investment policy and sustainable development to support the SDIP’s objectives.

7. Entrepreneurship Policy Framework: UNCTAD has developed an Entrepreneurship Policy Framework that assists countries in formulating comprehensive policies to promote entrepreneurship and small business development. The framework covers areas such as entrepreneurial education and training, access to finance, business incubation, regulatory environment, and market access. UNCTAD’s support helps countries create an enabling environment for entrepreneurship and foster a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.

8. Trade and Gender: UNCTAD promotes gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in trade and development. It conducts research on the gender dimensions of trade and provides policy recommendations to mainstream gender perspectives in trade policies and agreements. UNCTAD supports capacity-building programs to enhance women’s participation in international trade and entrepreneurship, including through initiatives such as the Empretec Women in Business Awards.

These are further examples of UNCTAD’s activities and initiatives across a range of areas. The organization’s work is aimed at addressing the complex challenges and opportunities related to trade, investment, and development, and supporting its member states in achieving sustainable and inclusive growth.

1. Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy Reviews: UNCTAD conducts Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) Policy Reviews to assess the STI policies and strategies of member states. These reviews help countries identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement in their STI systems. UNCTAD provides policy recommendations to enhance countries’ STI capacities, promote technology transfer, and foster innovation-driven development.

2. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Action Network: UNCTAD actively engages in the SDG Action Network, which is a global initiative to accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs. As part of this network, UNCTAD collaborates with various stakeholders, including governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector, to share knowledge, experiences, and best practices in implementing the SDGs.

3. Investment Promotion and Facilitation: UNCTAD supports countries in attracting and facilitating investment through its Investment Promotion and Facilitation Program. It provides capacity-building activities, technical assistance, and advisory services to enhance countries’ investment promotion strategies, develop investment promotion agencies, and improve investment facilitation frameworks. UNCTAD also promotes best practices in responsible investment promotion and facilitation.

4. Trade and Environment: UNCTAD addresses the intersection of trade and environmental sustainability. It analyzes the environmental implications of trade policies and agreements, including the impact on biodiversity, climate change, and natural resource management. UNCTAD provides policy advice on integrating environmental considerations into trade policies, promoting sustainable consumption and production patterns, and supporting green sectors and industries.

5. Data and Statistics: UNCTAD plays a crucial role in improving data and statistics related to trade, investment, and development. It develops statistical methodologies and tools, provides technical assistance to countries in data collection and analysis, and produces statistical publications and databases. UNCTAD’s efforts contribute to enhancing the availability, quality, and comparability of data, enabling evidence-based policymaking and monitoring progress towards development goals.

6. Trade Policy Frameworks: UNCTAD assists countries in formulating effective trade policies and strategies. It provides policy analysis, conducts research on trade trends and developments, and supports countries in trade policy formulation and negotiation. UNCTAD’s work in this area helps countries design trade policies that foster economic growth, enhance competitiveness, and promote sustainable development.

7. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Ecosystems: UNCTAD focuses on the development of entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems to foster economic diversification and job creation. It supports the creation of conducive environments for entrepreneurs, promotes collaboration between academia, industry, and government, and facilitates knowledge-sharing and networking opportunities. UNCTAD’s initiatives aim to unleash the potential of entrepreneurship and innovation as drivers of sustainable development.

8. International Investment Agreements (IIAs): UNCTAD provides guidance and analysis on international investment agreements, including bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and free trade agreements (FTAs) with investment provisions. It offers policy advice on the design and negotiation of IIAs to ensure a balance between the rights and obligations of investors and host countries, promote sustainable development objectives, and safeguard policy space for host countries.

1. Least Developed Countries (LDCs): UNCTAD places a strong focus on supporting the development needs of the world’s least developed countries. It provides technical assistance, capacity-building programs, and policy advice tailored to the specific challenges faced by LDCs. UNCTAD’s initiatives in this area aim to enhance trade capacities, attract investment, foster sustainable development, and promote the graduation of LDCs from their vulnerable status.

2. Trade and Competition Policy: UNCTAD works to promote competition policy and law as essential tools for achieving inclusive and sustainable development. It provides guidance and technical assistance to countries in developing and implementing effective competition policies and institutions. UNCTAD’s initiatives help countries establish fair market conditions, prevent anti-competitive practices, and create a level playing field for businesses.

3. Global Commodities Forum: UNCTAD organizes the Global Commodities Forum, a high-level event that brings together stakeholders from governments, the private sector, civil society, and international organizations. The forum serves as a platform for dialogue and knowledge-sharing on commodities-related issues, including trends, challenges, and policy responses. It facilitates partnerships and cooperation to address commodity-related challenges and promote sustainable commodity sectors.

4. Investment for Sustainable Development: UNCTAD promotes investment as a driver of sustainable development. It provides policy guidance and technical assistance to countries in attracting responsible and sustainable investment that contributes to economic, social, and environmental objectives. UNCTAD supports efforts to align investment with the SDGs, integrate sustainability considerations into investment policies, and enhance the developmental impact of investment.

5. Gender and Development: UNCTAD mainstreams gender perspectives throughout its work to ensure that trade, investment, and development policies benefit women and men equally. It conducts research on the gender dimensions of economic activities, provides policy recommendations to promote gender-responsive policies, and supports capacity-building programs to enhance women’s economic empowerment. UNCTAD also advocates for gender equality in international trade and investment agreements.

6. Science, Technology, and Innovation for Development: UNCTAD recognizes the critical role of science, technology, and innovation (STI) in driving economic growth and sustainable development. It promotes the development and diffusion of technology, facilitates technology transfer, and supports countries in building STI capacities. UNCTAD’s initiatives in this area aim to bridge the digital divide, foster innovation-driven entrepreneurship, and harness the potential of STI for sustainable development.

7. Investment and Enterprise Responsibility: UNCTAD promotes responsible business conduct and corporate social responsibility (CSR). It provides guidance on responsible investment practices, encourages the adoption of CSR policies by businesses, and supports the development of voluntary sustainability standards. UNCTAD’s initiatives aim to ensure that investment and enterprise activities contribute to sustainable development, respect human rights, and mitigate environmental and social risks.

8. Regional Integration: UNCTAD supports regional integration efforts across the world. It provides technical assistance and policy advice to regional organizations and member states in promoting regional trade, investment, and cooperation. UNCTAD’s initiatives help countries realize the benefits of regional integration, such as expanded markets, enhanced competitiveness, and increased economic resilience.

1. Digital Economy: UNCTAD recognizes the transformative potential of the digital economy and works to harness its benefits for sustainable development. It addresses digital trade issues, e-commerce policies, digital infrastructure development, and digital skills enhancement. UNCTAD assists countries in formulating digital economy strategies, strengthening digital entrepreneurship, and promoting inclusive digital access and connectivity.

2. Trade Facilitation and Logistics: UNCTAD supports countries in improving trade facilitation and logistics to enhance their competitiveness in international trade. It provides guidance on simplifying trade procedures, reducing trade costs, and enhancing trade efficiency. UNCTAD’s initiatives aim to streamline customs processes, improve transportation infrastructure, promote efficient logistics systems, and facilitate cross-border trade.

3. Consumer Protection: UNCTAD promotes consumer protection policies and practices at the national and international levels. It provides guidance on consumer rights, fair business practices, product safety, and redress mechanisms. UNCTAD supports countries in establishing effective consumer protection frameworks, enhancing consumer awareness and education, and strengthening consumer organizations.

4. Sustainable Tourism: UNCTAD recognizes the potential of sustainable tourism as a driver of economic growth, job creation, and environmental conservation. It provides policy advice and technical assistance to countries in developing sustainable tourism strategies, promoting responsible tourism practices, and maximizing the socio-economic benefits of tourism while minimizing its negative impacts. UNCTAD’s initiatives aim to foster sustainable tourism development that preserves cultural heritage, protects ecosystems, and benefits local communities.

5. Trade and Development in Africa: UNCTAD places a particular focus on addressing the trade and development challenges faced by African countries. It supports African countries in enhancing their trade capacities, promoting regional integration, and leveraging trade for sustainable development. UNCTAD’s initiatives in Africa include research, policy analysis, capacity-building programs, and technical assistance tailored to the specific needs of the continent.

6. Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs): UNCTAD recognizes the important role of SMEs in economic development and job creation. It provides support to SMEs through capacity-building programs, training, and policy advice. UNCTAD’s initiatives focus on enhancing SME competitiveness, facilitating access to finance, promoting entrepreneurship education, and fostering SME integration into global value chains.

7. Investment Policy Reviews: UNCTAD conducts Investment Policy Reviews (IPRs) to assess the investment policy frameworks of countries and provide recommendations for improvement. IPRs help countries identify areas where investment policies can be strengthened to attract more investment, promote sustainable development, and enhance the linkages between investment and other development objectives.

8. Trade and Development Research: UNCTAD conducts research and analysis on trade and development issues, producing reports, publications, and statistical databases. Its research covers various topics, including trade trends, investment flows, commodity markets, and global economic governance. UNCTAD’s research provides valuable insights and evidence-based policy recommendations to support informed decision-making by policymakers and stakeholders. These are further examples of UNCTAD’s diverse activities and initiatives aimed at promoting sustainable development, inclusive trade, and investment for the benefit of member states and the global community.